Rabbit Health Plan - The 8 Golden Rules

Follow this 8 point plan to ensure the health and happiness of your rabbit. Call us any time if you have any concerns or questions regarding the health or care of your rabbit.

1. Diet

Rabbits are herbivores. In the wild they eat grass and some weeds and flowers. The most important part of their diet is:

A rabbit should always have access to plenty of good quality hay.
Any other food, pellets, veggies, herbs etc should be very much a minor part of the diet compared to hay. We recommend Supa-Rabbit Excel as a suitable concentrate food in addition to hay.

We do not recommend rabbit mixes; they are often very poorly balanced. If you do feed your rabbits a mix they MUST EAT ALL COMPONENTS and not pick out their favourite bits. Rabbits are like children, they pick out the least healthy bits and leave the vitamins, minerals and goodness. This can lead to dental problems (see later) and gut upsets/ diarrhoea. Any rabbit that stops eating should be examined by a vet as soon as possible.

2. Vaccination

There are two fatal diseases of rabbits which we can be prevented by the vaccinations.

Myxomatosis: This is a disease commonly found in wild rabbit populations. It causes swelling of the face, ears and genitals. Recovery from this disease is rare and euthanasia is often necessary to prevent suffering.

Viral Haemorrhagic Disease: This is a very serious condition which causes a high fever, internal bleeding and liver disease. It is usually rapidly fatal and is spread by direct contact between rabbits (both wild and domesticated) and indirect contact, such as via insect transport or people, clothing, shoes and other objects.

Rabbits can be vaccinated against the above conditions by a single injection which last for twelve months from the age of 5 weeks.

3. Neutering

We strongly recommend that all rabbits are neutered.
Un-neutered rabbits have a very strong urge to breed; if they are unable they will become frustrated and are more likely to be aggressive and depressed. A common cause of previously friendly rabbits becoming aggressive and biting their owners is sexual frustration. It is unfair not to neuter your rabbit.

In addition un-neutered females have a very high risk (80% by the age of six years) of a malignant uterine cancer called an adenocarcinoma. This cancer frequently spreads and kills the rabbit.

We have a special rabbit anaesthetic protocol to ensure the general anaesthetic for any rabbit procedure is as safe as it can possibly be. We understand the reasons why rabbit anaesthetics can be more risky than those of other pets. We therefore routinely give gut stimulants, extra pain relief, pre-op fluids and use a special warm air blanket designed for human paediatrics to keep them warm. We are also the first practice in London to be using non invasive breathing tubes. We have an excellent rabbit anaesthetic record. Please see our rabbit general anaesthetic protocol on our practice website.

4. Encephalitozoon cuniculi

This parasite has recently found to be very common in the rabbit population; over 50% of animals have been infected, usually from their mother. In many cases the rabbit shows no signs but the parasite can attack the brain and urinary system. Rabbits can develop head tilt, paralysis and kidney disease, this disease can be fatal and unfortunately by the time the signs develop it may be too late.

We recommend treating all rabbits with a course of Lapizole. This is a tasty aniseed flavoured liquid, which rabbits seem to love. A 28 day course of this very safe drug has been shown to clear the parasite.

5. Dental Problems

One of the most common problems we see in rabbits is dental disease- tooth and jaw problems. Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously and usually wear down by rubbing against each other. Genetic factors (esp in Dwarfs) and a poor diet, not enough hay or picking out favourite bits from a rabbit mix, can lead to the teeth not aligning properly. Once this happens sharp ‘spurs’ can form on the teeth which dig into the gums and mouth causing very painful ulcers and cuts. Once these problems occur dental treatment is necessary and this will need to be repeated as the teeth will grow back. If dental abscesses develop then these can be very difficult to treat.

6. Fly Strike

Unfortunately every summer we see several cases of fly strike. This is an extremely unpleasant condition and occurs when a rabbit gets a dirty bottom. This is usually as a result of poor diet and/or the rabbit being unable to wash itself and eat the soft poos (caecotrphs). It is normal for rabbits to eat these soft poos and re-digest the material, making sure they get all the nutrients they can from their food. Being overweight is often the main cause of not being able to reach these poos.

If rabbits get a dirty rear end this attracts flies which lay their eggs in the dirty matted fur. The eggs hatch into maggots which grow and survive by feeding on the rabbit. The rabbit is then literally eaten alive by maggots. It can be fatal if not caught early. This highly distressing condition can be avoided by: Checking your rabbit’s rear end at least once, ideally twice a day, especially in summer. Not feeding too much rabbit mix, hay should be the vast majority of the diet. Ensuring that your rabbit cage is kept very clean and dry. Contacting your vet if your rabbit develops diarrhoea or a dirty rear end.
Applying ‘Rear-guard’ to your rabbit during the summer months, ask your vet about this product that stops the maggots developing. Using fly strips around the cage.

7. Housing

Rabbit are social animals and need regular stimulation and company. Neutered rabbits should live happily together. We do not recommend keeping guinea pigs and rabbits together as disease can be transferred between them. Rabbits should not be confined to a hutch for long periods of time. Rabbits can be litter trained and can make very good household pets. They like to chew so precautions need to be taken, especially protecting them from electric wiring. Rabbits need regular exercise to maintain bone, joint and muscle health and fitness.

8. Insurance

We strongly recommend that you get your rabbit insured. Please ensure you read the small print carefully as some policies exclude dental treatments. Ensure you have a policy that provides ‘lifetime cover’.

Visit www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk for more information